Michaud is running. Democrats have life!

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, just announced that he is entering the race for governor. Well, he said he was putting together an “exploratory committee.” In political parlance, that means he is all but assured of running.

The ramifications of this are tremendous. He is without question the strongest Democrat we could have run to challenge Gov. Paul LePage, and I expect when early polling starts rolling out, we will see that he is neck and neck with the governor, if not in the lead once he gets the post-announcement bounce. His working class credentials and consensus-building demeanor bode well as a contrast for this race.

It also means this race just got a lot harder for independent Eliot Cutler. While a lot can happen in a year and a half, the key will be whether someone is solidly in second place after Labor Day 2014. Cutler is a strong campaigner who has access to plenty of fundraising, but so is Michaud. Plus Michaud will have much stronger institutional support from the Democratic Governor’s Association and the party, something Cutler is unable to tap into as an independent. That said, Cutler has been putting together a structure for the past two years, so he can’t be underestimated.

The other piece to watch out for is the ripple effect in the second district to replace Michaud. On the Democratic side we expect to see state Sens. Troy Jackson and Emily Cain and Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci give it a serious look. On the Republican side I understand that Josh Tardy has quietly been building a strong operation, plus Bruce Poliquin is sure to see if he can find a house to buy up north that gives him the residency needed to avoid the political liability of not living in the district. Also, you have to assume that Kevin Raye will give it another look and maybe Deb Plowman.

In the end, for Democrats, this is as good news as could be expected. A shout-out must be made to Ben Grant Democratic Party Chair. Six months ago we had lunch and he said his top goal was to get Mike or Chellie to run for Governor. At the time, I thought he was crazy and told him not to put too many eggs in that basket. Through perseverance, political science, and steady persuasion, he has accomplished what many though impossible: a strong candidate running against LePage that might actually bring the keys of the Blaine House back to the Democrats.

Let the fun begin…